Jimmy Spencer’s 34th minute header secured a crucial three points for Notts County against Crawley Town. A bumper home crowd spurred on the team and the Magpies held on for the clean sheet thanks to some heroic defending and outstanding goalkeeping by Bartosz Bialkowski.
Josh Vela’s absence from the matchday squad meant one change to the County starting 11 for the biggest game of the season so far. Callum McGregor impressed off the bench against Bristol City and was given the nod in a central midfield role alongside Gary Liddle and Curtis Thompson.
In an even opening, Notts were the first to test the opposition backline, when a quick passage of play saw Alan Sheehan’s pacy cross into the six-yard box well cut out by centre-back Kyle McFadzean. Bartosz Bialkowski was the first of the goalkeepers to be forced into a save, as he responded quickly to his left to smother Jamie Proctor’s glancing header.
Campbell-Ryce looked Notts’ biggest attacking threat and almost set up an opener following a tricky 18th minute run. Spencer met the winger’s cross with a forceful header that flew narrowly wide of the top-right corner.
Bialkowski was called into action again, when Gwion Edwards found a pocket of space on the edge of the box. The wideman’s hit took an awkward bounce but the Pole clutched the ball safely to his chest.
On 26, Notts fans felt that their side should have been awarded a penalty when, following a lengthy run, Grealish was tripped inside the box. The calls were waved away by the referee, but Ronan Murray had a low drive excellently kept out by the outstretched boot of away stopper Paul Jones, before McGregor blazed over on the rebound.
Grealish was involved again with another run, this time on the left wing, which ended with him being upended. Sheehan’s free-kick delivery into the six-yard box was inviting and Spencer applied a powerful header beyond Jones.
The goal lifted Notts and Sheehan nearly had another assist to his name just a minute after the opener. The skipper roamed forward to strike across goal and nearly found Murray, who was unable to make contact at the back post.
Moments into the second period, Matt Tubbs latched onto a long ball and fired across the face of goal. Had anyone been present inside the six-yard box, it would have been a certain equaliser.
Luck appeared to be on the Magpies’ side, because failure to clear led to another low centre, which Bialkowski fumbled into the path of Tubbs. The goalkeeper somehow scrambled into a position to make an outstanding recovery save, ahead of a vital Hollis goal line clearance to deny Mike Jones’ follow-up attempt.
Bialkowski’s next stop was truly remarkable and prevented a certain goal, as Gary Dicker connected with a cross to head powerfully at goal. Home fans had their heads in their hands but somehow the number one reached backwards to claw the ball over.
Notts switched to a 4-4-2 after Mustapha Dumbuya replaced McGregor. Still, Crawley continued their pursuit of a leveller and Bialkowski was required to bat away Edwards’ rifled 25-yard shot, before gathering Tubbs’ long-range half-volley shortly after.
Nathan Tyson added fresh legs to the County attack at the expense of Murray. The striker’s energy was welcomed as he relentlessly closed down the away defenders at a stage of the game where the Magpies experienced little of the possession.
The closing stages seemed to last an eternity but Notts played down the clock in the corner, with the likes of Grealish and Spencer showing great time-wasting skills with clever play. Three minutes of added time eventually passed as the Wheelbarrow Song was belted out by the Kop and the roar was the loudest of the afternoon.
A fourth consecutive win lifted Notts within a point of the teams outside the bottom four ahead of another important fixture against Swindon Town. The Black and White Army is needed once again so get down to Meadow Lane for another battle, as Notts look to continue The Great Escape.